Touring Spain and not visiting the Alhambra is like going to Paris and forgetting to visit the Eiffel tower. It’s a must-visit place because it holds some of the most breathtaking sights that you’ll ever see.
Since the Alhambra is a huge complex of buildings and palaces, and a top-rated tourist attraction, you’ll find this guide to touring it helpful. Read on so you can visit the highlights of the Alhambra and make the most out of your day.
A Bit of History Behind the Alhambra
Just one ruler did not build this fortress/palace complex. Instead, it developed over many centuries and dynasties into the jaw-dropping beauty it is today. It started as a military fortress in 889 AD, but up into the 13th century, it was rebuilt by Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar, the Nasrid Emir of that time.
He built the palaces and lavish courtyards of the Alhambra, and this was further expanded by the Christian Kings that came into rule after the Reconquista in 1492. Today, it is a unique example of a blend of Muslim and Christian architecture, unlike anywhere else in the world.
A Quick Guide for Touring Alhambra
Here are the highlights of the place along with some tips that will help you through your tour of the Alhambra:
Plan Your Visit
A staggering 6,600 people visit the Alhambra each day. For this reason, it’s a smart idea to buy your tickets beforehand, as they sell out pretty quickly. You can book them as early as 90 days in advance.
You can buy your tickets from the official website on the same day as well, but it’s most likely that you’ll find slim pickings!
So, buy tickets online and beforehand if you wish to visit the Alhambra. However, if you’ve just decided to visit this place before heading out of Spain, there is still some hope to get your hands-on tickets.
Read more about Alhambra ticket information and ways to get last-minute tickets here.
Enter through Puerto De La Justicia
If you already have your tickets on your phone and don’t have to pick them up from the main visitor’s entrance, start from the Puerto De La Justicia gate. This way, you won’t have to walk from the main entrance towards the palaces.
You can work your way down the most beautiful sights smoothly and efficiently from this gate.
Start from this military area called the Alcazaba. Here, you can walk up the hills, examining the 1200’s forts. Upon the top, is the watchtower, the main highlight of Alcazaba.
The Torre de la Vela watchtower is from where you can get an unmatched view of the city. The sights of river Darro and the Sierra Nevada mountains from the top of this tower will be a treat to look at.
Pro tip: make sure you visit this place well before your allotted time for entrance into the Nasrid Palaces (visiting Alcazaba after the palaces can be a bit underwhelming). This way, you get plenty of time for exploring Alcazaba, walking downwards, and reaching the palaces on time.
They don’t let you enter the Nasrid Palaces even a minute later than the allotted time on your ticket (and you don’t want to miss out on them!)
The main highlight of the Alhambra, the Nasrid Palaces, is one area you must visit. Here, you’ll find the Comares Palace, which used to be the King’s private residence. The high walls of this palace with intricate Islamic inscriptions are indeed a beautiful sight.
Moving on, the Palace of Lions is a mix of Muslim and Christian architecture. It has a courtyard with more elaborate designs on its high walls, in the middle of which is the Fountain of Lions.
Another palace worth exploring is the Charles V Palace, which includes a circular patio. Each of these palaces represents how lavish the King’s residences were, which is why this place is the most popular in the Alhambra.
Next to the palaces is the Partal, which consists of a beautiful pond, opposite to which stands the Tower of the Ladies. Beautiful flower beds and greenery surrounds all of this, which is worth a picture (or a dozen.)
If you’re feeling tired by this time, skip the Partal and take a detour towards Generalife.
These gardens are on the outskirts of the Alhambra. After the architectural beauty of the palaces, you can take in the exotic natural beauty of the Generalife gardens.
These gardens were built to serve as an escape for the royal families – a place to relax within the beauty of nature. It includes the Patio de la Acequia, which is a long pool surrounded by plants and flowers.
Visiting Generalife will leave you refreshed and relaxed after the long hours spent in the forts and palaces.
An in-depth tour of the Alhambra deserves an entire day to itself. But for exploring the main areas, you need a good four hours.
Be sure to start early in the day (the gates open at 8:30 am) when the crowd is thin and when you can appreciate the picturesque beauty of the Alhambra in peace.